Thanks to the generosity of Sarasota donor Ina Schnell, Professor Paul Niell travelled with a group of Art History graduate students to The Ringling Museum of Art in the first week of November to visit the exhibition Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492–1898 and to participate in a study day organized by the museum in support of the exhibition on Saturday, November 8th. Professor Niell presented “Domestic Space and Agency in Colonial Cuba” at the event, which included presentations by four scholars of Florida institutions who used their own research to address the themes of the exhibition and to comment on its relationship to Florida history. Interspersed with the presentations were gallery tours of the traveling exhibition and the Ringling permanent collection led by museum staff.
Behind Closed Doors is the largest exhibition in U.S. history to focus exclusively on domestic arts in the Spanish colonial Americas. The exhibition was organized by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and curated by Richard Aste. Through the display of furniture, ceramics, portraiture, metalwork and other items, Behind Closed Doors advances the argument that Spanish American elites practiced conspicuous consumption in the acquisition of domestic things to negotiate their position within a strict socio-racial hierarchy established and maintained by Spanish colonialism. Professor Niell’s paper addresses the Cuban colonial situation, where it appears that, over time, conspicuous consumption was practiced by more than the social elite, including most members of Cuban society, even slaves. His presentation also addresses Cuban appropriations of British and French furniture design, the social experience of the Cuban colonial house and the material culture of slavery in domestic spaces.